Time for Part Five of my serialization of The Secret Agent, first published in 1907 but truly a Tale for Our Time. Last night's episode was set in the bedroom above the seedy Soho shop, with Mr Verloc still fretting as to how he would be able to pull off his terrorist outrage. Tonight's episode flashes forward, a few weeks later, and the aftermath of - as we shall hear - a very dramatic and disturbing incident. I believe Conrad' was the first to use this kind of fractured chronology - in non-novel terms, it's like Quentin Tarantino's structure in Pulp Fiction: How cool is that?
At any rate, tonight's episode takes place in the Silenus Restaurant, where Comrade Ossipon encounters the Professor, a bomb-maker who never travels without his merchandise, and keeps his finger on the trigger:
'I shall never be arrested. The game isn't good enough for any policeman of them all. To deal with a man like me you require sheer, naked, inglorious heroism."' Again his lips closed with a self-confident snap. Ossipon repressed a movement of impatience.
'Or recklessnessâ€”or simply ignorance,' he retorted. 'They've only to get somebody for the job who does not know you carry enough stuff in your pocket to blow yourself and everything within sixty yards of you to pieces.'
'I never affirmed I could not be eliminated,' rejoined the other. 'But that wouldn't be an arrest. Moreover, it's not so easy as it looks.'
'Bah!' Ossipon contradicted. 'Don't be too sure of that. What's to prevent half-a-dozen of them jumping upon you from behind in the street? With your arms pinned to your sides you could do nothingâ€”could you?'
'Yes; I could. I am seldom out in the streets after dark,' said the little man impassively, 'and never very late. I walk always with my right hand closed round the india-rubber ball which I have in my trouser pocket. The pressing of this ball actuates a detonator inside the flask I carry in my pocket. It's the principle of the pneumatic instantaneous shutter for a camera lens. The tube leads upâ€”'
With a swift disclosing gesture he gave Ossipon a glimpse of an india-rubber tube, resembling a slender brown worm, issuing from the armhole of his waistcoat and plunging into the inner breast pocket of his jacket. His clothes, of a nondescript brown mixture, were threadbare and marked with stains, dusty in the folds, with ragged button-holes. 'The detonator is partly mechanical, partly chemical,' he explained, with casual condescension.
And thus Joseph Conrad gives us the protean suicide-bomber.
Members of The Mark Steyn Club can hear Part Five of our adventure simply by clicking here and logging-in. Earlier episodes of The Secret Agent can be found here, and previous Tales for Our Time here.
~I mentioned the other day that the idea of Mark Steyn Club Gift Membership.came to me after guest-hosting Rush recently, and taking a call from Natalie, a 15-year-old fan in Montana. Natalie said she was saving up from her summer job to buy a Steyn Club membership. My cold, dead heart melted and I gave her a membership as a 16th birthday gift. So I was delighted to hear from Natalie yesterday that she's enjoying the Club and making full use of her membership:
Reading Mark's new newsletter while eating one of my Aunt's favorite brownies and some milk while holding my newest little brother. Life is good.
Glad to hear it, Natalie. That first edition of The Clubbable Steyn roams far and wide - from grooming to dueling, Benghazi to Hong Kong, "known wolves" to creepy flag designers. If you'd like a copy, it's free with membership in The Mark Steyn Club, so please see here - and, if you've a friend or family member with a birthday coming up, please see our new Gift Membership.
See you for Part Six of The Secret Agent tomorrow, Wednesday, when I'll also be back on air with Tucker Carlson on Fox News, live coast to coast at 8pm Eastern/5pm Pacific.